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Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Divorce and Death of MOM

This was our wedding song

     “I’m gay.” Those words were once impossible for me to utter. In fact, it took months after being “outed” before I really accepted that word. My story, no, our story may have a few personal touches here and there, but surprisingly it is similar to far too many. The Utah Gay Fathers Association (UGFA) reports that out of 121 online forum participants, it is estimated that only 5 men/fathers became dads outside of heterosexual marriage. (Salas) This organization is far from a stagnant group, more and more faces are added to their ranks every day. Four years I was the new face in the minority brotherhood.
In my “closet" actions spoke louder than those words. Those actions caught up with me. I cheated, I lied, I deceived. I didn’t last to eternity or even “until death do us part” for that matter. That may be uncomfortable for some to read, but there it is: blunt honesty in black and white. While one sentence sums up facts of my former marriage, it is not even the title page to a much more in depth story. For some, this is as far as they will need to read. They have put together the words “gay,” “lied,” and “cheated” and their minds are made up. They only need to rely on the belief system they were taught as children to decide the kind of man I (or the collective “we’) are.; or how sad or foolish a woman she must be. I know that knee-jerk reaction to rush to that conclusion all too well. I lived 26 years of my life relying on what I was told and not what I felt. However, I hold out hope that the more honest and open I am, the more open people will become to changing their pre-packaged ideas of who gay people are. Being gay in a homophobic culture  affects far more than the single gay man, it affects families, children, wives.
        As I said before, my experience is not entirely unique. I get emails, texts, phone calls from men every week coming to terms with who they are. Every week there comes the question of what these men should do and how they deal with the women and children involved. I focus on what is called a MOM within the gay community. MOM stands for “mixed orientation marriage.” MOMs exist in many forms across the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) spectrum. In my case, and the view within this paper, you are looking at a MOM involving one heterosexual woman married to one homosexual man.  It is a common version of a MOM marriage. While a few exist and continue on after the husband comes out, attempting to stay together often proves unhealthy for all involved.
        The divorce and death of a MOM are a common occurrence within this minority group of marriages. And it is indeed both a divorce and a death. It is the death of a dream. As such, the process of surviving a mixed orientation marriage failure follows the grieving process. Shock and denial, anger, bargaining, sadness/depression, and acceptance all have to be endured to find a healthy life after a MOM divorce. They aren’t always followed in that order, and, unfortunately, many get stuck in one stage. While the exact details of my divorce are unique, the general experience resonates a common melody among so many gay man/straight woman marriages. It is a two sided coin and I hope to adequately describe her side as well as mine.
Shock and Denial
         “It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.” (Axelrod)
        For me shock and denial came at 19. It was as this turning point in my life that memories flooded in and reality had to be faced. The implications of that reality had to be faced. Simply stated, I had been abused. All those memories I had pushed off as a dream came flooding back until I could no longer deny they were real. The survival instinct can only remember photographic instances of place and time. I can’t place an exact date or age on it, but I do know it happened. I have guesses of approximate years. So there it was, at 19, my root. I was attracted to men because I was abused, or if that didn’t always sound right I could blame it on the need for affection from men due to an older, worn out father, brothers who didn’t play ball, never having a living grandfather or uncle, shyness, desires to be athletic and “like” other guys my age. I did rely on the abuse as an excuse. It was a time of shock and denial. I thought I should simply seek some guided help and then bury it so I could be freed; “cured.”
        And so I did, I sought out an LDS counselor that was older and was sure to have the same belief system I did: being Gay was a choice, a burden to overcome. I took my girlfriend, now ex-wife, to the sessions. I was told to picture what I wanted in life and go for it. How foolish for him to say and me believe I was right. It was like telling 13 year old he could drive a car if he just grabbed the keys and picture what it was like to drive. Any 13 year old can’t see the consequences of such acts. He can’t see the people he could hurt or the damage he may cause by doing what he dreamed. Similarly, my internalized homophobia was certainly not going to let me picture anything but being normal in a heterosexual marriage with kids and a porch swing. I followed that picture in my mind, married, had kids, but no porch swing. Maybe that is my real issue; maybe my marriage wasn’t successful for lack of a porch swing....And so, buried it and bore it as my sinful nature and personal trial in life. The counselor should have known better.
        3 and ½ years into marriage the second round of shock and denial came. I had begun a journey of weight loss. If my attraction to certain men was based solely on wanting to be like them, then I would be; I would get healthy. I would face my lack of athleticism and general macho-ism. I took care of myself. I even put myself first for once here and there. My marriage to this point had been all about being the perfect husband and father; losing myself in that “happiness” so I wouldn’t have to face my demons. It was the cure to my demons. It wasn’t until I actually lost weight and felt better about myself that my real demons showed.  I had used my weight, and frumpy, unassuming clothing, as a barrier to being attractive. I felt ugly and those feelings were surely a reality and that reality would surely keep any of those “gay, predatory” men from finding me attractive. Not being attractive meant that even if I were tempted, it could go nowhere as there would be no one to go there with. Losing weight screwed that up. I did start feeling attractive, I did start getting noticed. I received compliments and congrats on losing the weight. While it felt good it also brought up these fears and moments of “Oh shit! Now what?” If someone actually finds me attractive I had no defenses. The romantic feelings of desire to be around and with men flooded in and there was no dam left to stop it. I was shocked. And so I needed to develop a new dam. I needed to grab a pail and hope I could hold the years of pent up emotions from flooding my life and destroying what I had built. There had to be some other way, some miracle cure. Tell me to go dunk in the River Jordan and I would have in a heartbeat. I was scrambling to deny these feelings.
        For my ex-wife shock and denial came differently. Liz was the first person I told about the root cause (the abuse) and my feelings of attraction for other men. We had been friends for about 4 years and it was just after high school. By friends, I mean that we did everything together but kiss or get physical. We spent almost every waking moment together. We weren’t “dating” because that was a bad idea pre-LDS mission. I needed to be as perfect as I could to combat my demons and be cured. Dating was out of the question. So we were best friends. Yes, we had talked of marriage and kids. We had discussed the future. On that night, overlooking the valley, I told her. I let her in to the deep, dark secret. The trial I had to overcome; the disease growing inside. I was attracted to men and wasn’t exactly sure why, but the abuse had to be the ticket. My memories of that night and for some time after include us talking about it. Occasionally pointing out what attracted us to men. The denial came slowly. We were going to overcome this. She was by my side and she was going to support me. Talking of attractions of men faded away and it became both of our responsibilities to deny it and move forward following what we had been taught. Shortly after our talk we fell into another type of sin, but this was “natural” even if it was wrong before marriage. It was our way of embracing the denial. It was an outlet and release. While it was “wrong,” it was certainly better than being gay. It proved to both of us that I wasn’t gay.
        Her second round of denial would last years. After marriage the honeymoon phase was good for both of us. It wasn’t until just after our first year that I was really tempted again. And I fell. I began feeling the temptations, the desires, and I began looking it up again; searching for that connection. Even with my decent ability to hide my tracks of temptation I know Liz found it. She saw the history on the computer when I wasn’t always thorough enough. Sure, we talked about it, but we both were uncomfortable about it and wanted to deny it was a problem. We would try harder and be stronger. It seems like a faint dream to me now, well more of a nightmare. Even that last year of marriage with the weight loss, t he unusually strong bond to a new, attractive (but straight) male friend, more secrecy, more moodiness, emotional distance, and even the eventual odd-hour trips to the gym that last six months, it was denial. I was more vocal in reaching out to some of her family for help. I was feverishly trying to build a better dam. We both were building while simultaneously denying there was anything real to be damming up. And so her shock came after the denial. Her shock came when that man approached her and told her what she had denied. Told her those trips were more about going to a “Jim” than to a gym. With that shock, the denial could no longer exist. After that, it was apparent that man knew the truth, had participated in the truth, the phone call came. On my way to work she called and I knew there would be no more denial. We both knew there would be no way to sweep it away or ignore it. It was over. We were over.
 “The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
  • If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
  • If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
  • If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.” (Axelrod)
        Bargaining was not a stage in and of itself for me. Bargaining overlapped my denial. It existed even before the shock. Before I was 19 I knew I liked other guys. I knew it was hard to divert my eyes from that star basketball player as he stood in the hallway with his loose jersey. I knew I liked seeing his physical strength, I knew I loved his smile, I knew I felt weird and excited when we talked. I knew I wanted to hang out and spend time with him. However I didn’t know that meant I was gay. I knew it wasn’t exactly right to dream about him. I knew it wasn’t right to look up pictures of men, but it wasn’t being gay. I just needed to pray harder, read more scriptures, serve more people, take on more callings, speaking kinder words, and hum my favorite hymn. The hymn was a big one. Music was almost my conditioned response. I am not alone in this. In “No More Goodbyes” Carol Lynn Pearson shares  a story from a man that followed the humming your favorite hymn in extreme obedience. It has nearly become a conditioned response that he gets turned on when he hears the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing. I didn’t get that deep into it, but I definitely followed what I was taught. I bargained with God. If I could just be good enough or sacrifice a little more would he take it away? Could I be normal? Could I trade? I begged for hours on my knees or driving in a car at 2 AM listening to music. Could I be a drunk, could I be addicted to drugs, could he simply send a diesel to t-bone me and end it all? What could I do to no longer be different? Even there at the end when I had come to accept that I liked being with men, I bargained. Could I survive shock therapy and be cured? If I gave in and attended these conferences, would he heal me? If I ran away and left my family in peace, could he just leave me alone? Could he send someone good, virtuous, honest, loving, and straight to care for my wife and raise my children?
        The result of that bargaining left a man with pained knees from kneeling, bloodied knuckles for hours in prayer with a clenched hands begging, a heart broken, and a soul without hope to carry on.
        Bargaining for Liz looked different. She wasn’t bargaining to change her nature. She was bargaining to change her marriage. She was bargaining to be good enough or attractive enough. Bargaining began before marriage. It began with the first time he admitted his attractions to her. The bargaining began with something along the lines of “if we work together and trust in God, this will go away.”
            “As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.” (Axelrod)
        The one change I would suggest to the above definition is that in the case of a MOM, the LGBTQ person is often seen as a rational person to be blamed. That goes for both the LGBTQ person, him(her)self, as well as the heterosexual spouse.
            Anger entered my life in two different, but consecutive stages. The first inklings of anger occurred as my attempts at bargaining failed. After talking with all those I could think to talk to, bishops, friends, wife, in-laws, those who claimed to be cured through programs, I realized there would be no cure for me. In my religious life that meant that I had been lied to and/or that I wasn’t good enough. It became apparent that all my attempts at righteousness, spirituality, and attempts to be "good enough" had fallen on deaf (or even possibly non-existent) ears. "How could a God or Heavenly Father have watched me try and try and try for so long and turned a blind eye at the pain and suffering in my life? How could he have watched me make more and more promises to him, to a woman, to a family and done nothing to stop this? Why was I the only one not being blessed for following his chosen leaders?" I couldn’t say that to anyone. That would be blasphemy. That was apostasy. I felt that build in me for every minute of every day. That anger spilt over into my personal life. I delved into the deceit and lies and cheating. I would use those outlets I had secretly built as a way to lash out. I took advantage of and abused close friendships and even the one friend who knew, cared, and understood what I was going through. Church became a burden, often unbearable. When I hit this stage of burden I was serving as the Executive Secretary to the Bishop. In the LDS faith, the Bishop is called by claimed inspiration by the church hierarchy to serve as the spiritual leader of a ward (local congregation). He is believed to be the mouthpiece of God for all those who live within the geographic boundaries of his congregation. I did believe this Bishop to be a good man. He had always treated me well. He hadn’t scolded or frowned upon my struggles, yet he also had provided no method to cure the gay in me. My anger wasn’t kindled against him. It was kindled against the claims of authority the church made. It was against a silent and absent God. I would sit in meetings with ward leaders and just hope the time would pass quickly. I no longer cared for the topics they discussed. Where the scouts went camping or the current budget seemed meaningless. Asking for ward members to help in this or that service project seemed like an exercise in trying to win a hurtful god’s approval. I loathed sitting in Sacrament meeting (LDS Mass) and hearing all the supposedly happy parts of the faith or hearing one more word of judgment for those who didn’t follow the principles of the LDS gospel. As often as possible I would try to be the one to change diapers, or take our crying sons out. During Sunday school and Priesthood Quorums I would do my best to make up reasons to not be present. This is where being the Bishop’s errand boy became useful. I could say I was helping him. I had keys to the clerk’s office. I could hide. All this time feeling rage for all those things I once thought were holy and sacred. At the end of my marriage and after coming out I came to a point of no return for my LDS held beliefs. I came to a point of wanting to meet this "God" this "Heavenly Father" and tell him what I thought of his gospel of exclusion and pain. I was at the point of being fist fight ready had he dared show his face. I was done being pathetic. I was done believing that he cared.
After my separation I knew I needed energy for other challenges in my life. I chose to put God and all my previous beliefs on suspension. He was in time out and I would get back to him when I was ready. Rather than sit through a church disciplinary counsel I requested the church no longer contact me and to remove my name from their records. That was a huge step. 
After God was pushed onto his time-out stool in the corner, the second wave of anger set it. This is one of the few places where my ex-wife’s grieving process and my grieving process collided in a concurrent rage that makes divorces legendary. 
My second wave at anger was a response to her anger. She was shocked by my deceit and all those I drew into that web of lies. That shock leaped to anger at land speed record breaking pace. Her anger was fueled by the anger of her parents, her brothers and sisters, her friends. Above all that, even the distance of my family and their denial served as fuel to that rage. Within a week I went from the father she believed should be the envy of her sisters to the man who couldn’t see his own children without supervision. Once she learned of my deceit and dishonesty combined with who I had involved in my journey, this led her mind to wander to very dark places. Her ignorance (which, to her credit, we were both ignorant to my homosexuality) combined with the fear and anger put this mom over the edge. However, this last assertion is mine. She denies that homophobia had anything to do with this. We agree to disagree here. 
Liz’s fear appeared to me as giving way to pure anger and that ignited the rage in myself. Anger is exhausting. It often takes more energy than can be replaced. It leaves you emotionally depleted. I was engulfed in anger that she would tear this father-son bond apart. I was furious that she couldn’t see past my mistakes and see that I was still a loving man. Her apparent homophobia incensed me and we had many yelling matches over her assertions that the mistakes I made and coming out to be who I was. That anger came at a high legal cost for both of us. That anger led to using designated go-betweens or only written communication. We could no longer be civil with each other. This stage of anger burned for almost 2 years. The break in this fever came after completing her demands by proving my ability to safely parent. I saw a therapist and she agreed about my fitness as a parent. With that bit of evidence in hand visitation was no longer justified and my sons returned home to see their dad; no strings attached. I believe that her meeting with my therapist eased concerns. The realization that there was no further legal barrier to my fatherhood had to force a wake-up call. I had it in writing; she could no longer claim I was unfit. With the official letter in hand, there could be no further assertion that my mistakes had anything to do with being the great dad I was once envied for being. It is simple to let others get you fired up. It is easy to tell someone to fight a battle you don’t have to personally be involved in. Liz’s family was great at showing up just long enough to fuel her fire. They didn’t have to live with that anger though. They could go to their homes and not have to see the energy consumed by their irrational words. Realizing they were encouraging punches in a fight they weren’t in caused a turning point. 
After a period of divorce that only lawyer’s wallets’ dream of, we finally paused in a truce one night. We talked. A quick phone call on Thanksgiving after the boys were tucked into bed turned into hours of dousing the flames and cautiously considering building a new bridge. Not a re-build, but a new concept; a new design.
“Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.” (Axelrod)
Depression hit me November 15th 2007. I lost my confidante and friend. He was leaving for two years and I knew things would never be the same. The one person who really knew me and hadn't pushed me away for being "that way" was gone and everything I had done hadn't fixed me. He had been all I was holding onto. My honesty with him was the last chance I had to find a cure. I was going to lose my family. My religion was ringing in my head and I knew I was giving up. I knew giving up and giving in meant eternal damnation to my lost soul. I began making plans to move away so I wouldn't hurt anyone anymore and no one would see me as I became a shame-filled gay man. I stopped eating. I did nothing but come home and sit on the couch. This went on for days. On top of that, Liz left me for a few days. We decided to try again, but I knew it was over and it was only a matter of time before I would have to do something. I knew I would have to come out to her. I would have to admit to her that I couldn’t fight it any more.  I would have to tell her that I had cheated and lied. The depression continued and those couple of months were a blur. I don’t really even recall Christmas, even though I somehow felt it would be the last as a married man. By the end of January I had made up my mind to leave, to disappear. I would come out to her at the beginning on February and that would be it. I had set the day I would give up and let go. As best laid plans go, I was “outed” a week before that date and it altered my course. Her shock would lead us both to anger. For me, that would also force me to face it and eventually accept it.
“Depression for me hit at the end of January.  I had the missing pieces of what had been puzzling me for about 7 months now.  My marriage, my dreams of the “cute young Mormon family” no longer existed.  I had become a “single mom.”  In going through this process, I came to the realization that I had many judgments about people, and now I was in their shoes.  It has become a catalyst for what I will tell you has been the greatest learning experience of my life. However, it took going to a place where today, the dark memories are foggy and hard to recall but makes me all the more grateful that this process has run its course and we can move forward together as a new type of family.” (Visser)

                “Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.” (Axelrod)
Acceptance took time. It wasn’t as painful as the other stages. It was a period of self reflection. I finally could put the puzzle pieces of my life together without avoid certain pieces or pretending they don’t exist. I was no longer using the wrong methods to find a “cure” to something that was never ill. It was a time where I could finally stop picking at the wound I had let grow in my soul. The wounds that I created in my quest to be someone I wasn’t. I was able to look at life for what it was and had been. I was able to finally apply the right ointment to heal.
While there was turmoil in my marriage, divorce, and ability to see my children, there was so much internal peace. I was able to look directly at religion, family beliefs, relationships, my abuse, my internal moral code. It was serene and beautiful most of the time. I was alive and could finally feel what that meant. There were no more pressured expectations. I had the chance to decide what I did and did not want to accept in my life.
I knew I had finally arrived in that place of acceptance one morning as I prepared to go to work. I was living at my childhood friend’s home in his basement after the separation. I woke up sometime that spring and while I was getting ready for work I looked at myself. Not the quick glance to ensure my hair was right or my clothes matched, but a deeper look. I stared directly into the mirrored reflection of my own eyes and I was at peace. In my closeted life I had spent so much energy trying to not be me that I was ashamed. I couldn’t look myself in the eye without feeling guilt. That day it was different. I looked, I stared, and I lingered. There were no more internal words of hate or loathing. There was no more blame for a “root” that didn’t exist. Sure, the abuse happened, but it hadn’t altered the gender of who I love. Instead, there were only feelings and thoughts of acceptance, love, peace. I was a gay man and I was content to finally be so.
The beauty of acceptance on this process is that it did lead to a 6th stage not usually encountered in the grieving process in the case of death or illness. I found happiness. After coming to accept who I was I was able to then appreciate it, celebrate it, embrace life as my whole self. While life isn’t perfect and I have definitely had my share of setbacks and pain, it is so much easier to live with as a whole person. Today I look forward to a future knowing that the tough times will be easier and the happy times greater as I live who I am.
            “My acceptance came in bits and pieces.  I first had to calm the storm within me.  Hurt and anger are heavy, and I just came to a place where I had no desire to carry them around anymore.  The first part came for me about 4 months after our separation.  Nothing earth shattering happened.  We were in the throes of an ugly divorce, but it was too much to keep up.  I learned through some very quiet, private moments that I couldn’t “fix” this. 
            The process of acceptance worked in me slowly and gradually, making it the process that lasted the longest. 
             I had to realize that there was accountability to be shared by many.  My accountability was that I married a man who was my best friend who, during this friendship, had shared with me that he did have attractions to men.  We were both ignorant to what we were dealing with.  I had been in love with him since I was 14 years old, and if he wanted to give the straight life a shot, I wanted to be the one he did it with.  I had to accept that I took a risk and though my marriage had ended, my boys still got to have him as a father.  THAT was one of the biggest reasons I took the risk in the first place.  I knew we would make a great parenting team, and we still do today. 
            I had to forgive.  I had to learn that by forgiving, I wasn’t saying that what happened was o.k.  I was saying, I don’t want to stay here anymore, I want to move forward.  
            I am at a place now where I have to sort of laugh at the look of shock and horror on people’s faces when I share that “my former husband is gay.”  They just can’t understand that it’s o.k.  In fact its way more than o.k.  It has given me more opportunities in my life to learn and grow than any other single experience my life has afforded me.  I went to the Pride Parade last June for heaven’s sake!  And on top of it, I nearly burst into tears as I watched my sweet boys ride past atop the shoulders of their daddy and his partner. 
           Ben connected me with some women in a “Straight Spouse Group.”  We laugh together at the way we came to know each other, but we work together with a hope and desire to help others come to this place of acceptance. 
         Ben gives me a hard time because the only spice I use to cook with is Nature’s Seasoning.   During our marriage he showed me how and when to use a few more spices.  I find a bit of irony each time I turn back to my Nature’s Seasoning.  Ben may not have convinced me to add more spices to my cooking, but he definitely figured out how to add spice to my life.  The experiences that this journey has afforded me are sweet and savory and have added richness to my life.” (Visser)                    
This is just my story, just how my MOM worked. While I share many similarities and feelings of other MOM’s, they individually run the spectrum of experiences and outcomes. There are MOM’s that don’t divorce. There are MOM’s that are made up of heterosexual men and lesbian women; those that involve transgendered members of this coupling. There are MOM’s that have both a lesbian woman and a gay man. The possibilities are endless. Support is building day by day for all forms of these marriages.
Part of my happiness today has been to involve myself in these support systems and grow awareness our existence. My particular focus has been gay fathers. The Utah Gay Fathers Association did not exist when I came out. Nothing like it existed. Through collaborative efforts, trial and error we exist today. I once thought I was numbered among a tiny number of gay men that married and had children with a heterosexual spouse. I was wrong. In the last year UGFA has grown from a small gathering of men at a monthly support meeting to 120+ online participants. In the time it has taken to write this we have added 10+ men to our support groups.
           UGFA is here to give hope, provide support, love and a listening ear. We are reaching out and providing a healthier path than the road my MOM took towards the end. We reach out to all gay dads and all gay men. We represent loving families. We give hope and encouragement to gay men who want children through adoption and surrogacy. We reach out to the Latino community. We build bridges with support groups for heterosexual partners of MOMs. We support all in our community who believe families take many forms and they all should be valued.
            Ultimately I hope to be a part of change. I hope that society and religion will learn to accept homosexuality into the fabric of humanity. We hope that pressure will be taken off GLBTQ people to marry heterosexual partners. In fact, there is hope that UGFA one day focuses more on creating support for families of same-sex marriages. There is hope that one day MOMs don’t exist as the too often do today. Whatever the future holds, we are here to offer love, acceptance, and support.


Axelrod, Julie. "The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief." 2011. Psych Central. .
Salas, Roque. Administrator Ben Visser. 20 February 2012.
Visser, Elizabeth. Ex-wife Ben Visser. 20 February 2012.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

4 Years of Saying What Needs To Be Said

This song came out just as I was. It is the inspiration for this blog. I wasn't really coming out as much as giving up. I was about to tell my wife I had given up and was coming out until someone beat me to it. I came out to my family on Superbowl Sunday 4 years ago. I pulled them from their parties to tell them before my ex beat me to it. I was so embarrassed I didn't invite my mom.

I listened to this song over and over and over the week leading up to the Sunday I would tell my family. There is such honesty in the song and I could feel it. It was my moment to say what I needed to say. There are those songs that you feel were meant for only you and every word was dead on. This is one of them for me.

Coming out was ugly and painful. It was stressful and I cried many tears. But, it was the best thing I have ever done for myself. 4 years later has proven that I am a better man, a better father, and even a better (ex) husband than I was before.

So I sat as the center of attention in a dark living room, hands shaking, faith broken, the one man army tired of fighting. I told them who I was. I came out as bisexual (still true, but more on that later). I told them of the divorce. It was liberating and scary. The only reaction I recall is one brother hugging me as he left that night and telling me it didn't matter and that I was still his brother. He has been the only one in my immediate family to maintain such an opinion. I may have lost many biological family members that day, but I gain honesty, integrity, authenticity. The road has been rough at times and many tears have been shed, but it has been worth it. I would never go back for anything.

So as I remember the scared man shaking in that living room I am thankful he finally said it. It has been the road less traveled and it has made all the difference.

Say what you need to say...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Better As A Memory

It was never a lie. It may have been naivety, too much faith in a non-existent "cure", or wishful thinking; but it was never a lie.

Our wedding day was amazing for many reasons. Sure, I planned it basically all myself. Yes, it took my breath away to walk into the empty reception room and see everything as I had planned it. Everything I had hoped for. But, it was more than was the dream that everyone hopes for. I was marrying my high school sweetheart. I was staying with the girl who had been at my side through so much. Dancing at prom together, laughing at stupid inside jokes, talking for hours about nothing, working together as "sandwich artists," dreaming of the future and all its possibilities, listening as I let out the secret pain and abuse I had suffered silently for so long with, crying at my side as my father, my mentor, left this life. She was there. She loved me and I loved her with all I understood love to mean. I loved her with all I had to offer.

4 years ago this weekend marks the shattering of so many of her dreams, my dreams, our dreams. It was a painful period in my life. I was giving up on the dream I felt I had wanted (and was supposed to have) for 27 years. This project I calculated, worked on, built, re-calcuated, was now ultimately destroyed. My pain would suddenly become hers too. In one phone call on the way to work it would be over. I would not beg her to stay or forgive and try again. I would no longer have someone to laugh, cry, hope, and dream with.

The next year and a half would be a time blurred with hate, anger, and pain that could only be inflicted between people who knew each other's every weakness. I have scars today still. Memories of pain that will never go away, but they have faded and the good times are cherished.

I have spent 7 months working on the Surgical Trauma unit in the Intermountain Medical Center. While I haven't seen it all and I am still surprised at times, I have seen a lot. I have watched patients die unexpectedly from injuries usually curable. I have seen patients recover from accidents hard to imagine as survivable. I have seen pain. I have watched men far too young lose use of their legs, women lose the chance to bare children before they even could fathom what that meant. I have seen physical pain every night. The scale of 1-10 is asked at every room visit. Pain is routine. I have seen emotional pain too. I have sat, carefully watching patients whose injuries weren't accidents, and whose emotional pain had driven them to try to end it all. I have seen pain.

I have also felt pain. I recall the broken ankle just a year ago that left me laying on my bed, going into shock, hoping my room mates would finally get me to the ER. Even a year later I can feel pain in that ankle with just the right weather or miscalculated step. But, that fades more and more. And four years later I can recall some of the emotional pain as a powerless father with children I couldn't see. I still have those scars and at the right moment I can feel the pain still. At the miscalculated bad day I can remember the broken heart at not seeing my sons have so many firsts. I can remember the pain of crying as I watched my sons drive away after a weekend, not knowing when the next weekend would come.

Yet, we survive and even the most complex bone break or the most painful heartache can be healed. We are remarkable creatures. Fragile, yet so strong. Life is a balance of delicate and powerful. Bones regrow stronger and, if we try, hearts can mend as well. The memory of pain dissipates. At the right moment we can catch glimpses of that pain, yet our minds have a knack of surviving it and moving forward. We even look back at the faded pain and gather strength from how we have recovered and grateful for the lessons we learned.

So 4 years later I can still remember the ugly, but in a faded way. I am grateful that I can't recall all the pain. We've moved past it. Sometimes the pain/anger/sadness catches like the ankle aches when a storm rolls in. Life isn't perfect, but we try.

I heard this song "Better As A Memory" and I made the connection to what I wrote about above. We loved each other. We stood side-by-side through so much. So many good times, so many sad. We buoyed each other up. And even through all the anger and pain at the end of our marriage we still work hard to rehab what is left and grow stronger everyday. There could be so much energy wasted in continuing to inflict pain, but we both realize things are better as a memory. The survivor's memory where pain is lessened and the good times shine through.

Life is complex, yet so simple. The complexity is usually as a result of self-doubt, fear, and naivety. I find that the complexities are usually of my own making. It has taken 4 years, but I think I am finally recognizing my own worth. Not the worth in terms of helping others or being involved in ways to make a difference. That worth has always been there for me. Today I realize my worth for that one. I am waking up to the idea that relationships aren't perfect....and shouldn't be. I am waking up to the idea that my imperfections and someone else's imperfections can be amazing when woven together.

We spend so much time making mental lists of exactly what Mr Right looks like. We set rules of what we want and don't want. We make things complex. The simplicity of it all is that Mr Right just needs to be a man that sees the beauty of our imperfections, loves even when things aren't so loveable, willing to be honest when honesty isn't convenient, willing to strong when strength is needed, and willing to submit to weakness when weakness may seem pathetic .

I joke at work when we pass on report that the significant other in a room is either married or just a bf/gf all based on how they act. The married spouse is there, but tends to spend their time on the couch or involved in so many things with the practicals of the patients care. The dating couple tends to be the ones sharing the hospital bed and jumping at every whimper or need. The exception to this rule is the one I love to see. I love seeing the old married couples that are knit together. They have that beautiful mix of the above. They have spent their lives as best friends and confidants. They have managed to not sweat the complexities and keep things simple. They value the imperfections that make us so beautiful. They have grown as individuals and tied themselves together not as one uniform rope but a web of individual strands intertwining enough to build strength, but separated enough to shine individually. They don't always stay the night, but they understand the beauty of missing each other at times. They understand the beauty of that "Good morning baby" as they walk in. They understand the beauty of being there becuse they want to, not just because they covenanted to.

Life is beautiful. Never perfect, but pretty awesome. I have gained more insight into truly believing my favorite quote: "I may not be perfect, but parts of me are pretty awesome." I am learning that Mr Perfect may exist at first glance, but it usually fades. I am learning that wanting a perfect guy is different than truly needing the imperfections that will make our web strong. After all a broken bone may seem like an imperfection, but we know that where bones were once broken they grow stronger.

4 years later our friendship grows. I am "better as a memory than as her man." We have grown stronger and wish her even more strength. I wish her to learn the value of herself. Not the boastful, prideful kind, but the value in understanding that both her imperfections and awesomeness are a package worth so much. I hope to continue to learn that too. I no longer want an exact Mr Right or a Mr Perfect. While not wanting a Mr Wrong, I am learning that want I want and what I need are not always on the same page. I am learning that letting go and just accepting can far surpass all I had hoped for.

So I celebrate this weekend with both the faded memory of yesterday's pain and the joy/serenity of living life authentically. The scars still exist, but strength does too. But after all, I hear scars are sexy.

So here is to life and old age. Here is to our friendship and the hope that so many more in similar situations find it. Here is to us finding our Mr Beautifully Imperfect. And here is to the knowledge that if he never shows that we will be that old couple together as friends. Peacefully celebrating our friendship and our family as we move on from this life.